Phil Mickelson stuck to his script and showed restraint when put in tough situations at the US Open, a big change for him. Except on Mondays, he used words instead of his golf clubs.
Still to come is the major reputed to be the toughest test in golf, the only one that prevents him from joining the most elite group in golf with a career Grand Slam. And this one is very different from any other Mickelson has faced.
The six-time major champion is competing on American soil for the first time in more than four months, now the face of a Saudi-funded league that aims to disrupt the PGA Tour.
At risk is his accumulated popularity over 30 years for his equally memorable wins and losses.
“In terms of whether or not the fans leave, I respect and understand their opinions, and understand that they have strong feelings and strong emotions about this choice,” Mickelson said. “And I respect that.”
He didn’t add anything from his comments last week outside London, where Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and 15 others defied PGA Tour regulations by taking part in Greg Norman’s new LIV Golf series which paid Lefty $200 million just for signing up.
Mickelson said that although tour players have been suspended — some of them quit before the opening tee shot last week — he hasn’t ruled out playing the PGA Tour again. He said Monday that should be his decision.
“I worked hard to earn a lifetime membership,” said Mickelson, whose six majors are among his 45 career wins. “I’ve worked hard to give back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf throughout my 30+ years of professional golf, and I’ve earned this lifetime membership, so I think this should be my choice.”
He was dressed in a black shirt with his personal logo – an image of him jumping onto the 18th green at Augusta National with his arms in the air after winning the 2004 Masters for his first major. He still has that bushy beard, no hat, and he answered questions for 25 minutes.
But he sometimes stopped talking, often looking at his feet before answering, the words not flowing as smoothly as usual. He became irritated when he felt the reporters were asking more than one question.
One was about the meaning of the legacy and whether his would change now that he was being funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
“I don’t like it when you keep asking multiple questions,” he replied.
As for his legacy, he said he appreciates what the PGA Tour has done for him and “I’m thrilled with the opportunity that LIV Golf is presenting to me.”
“I think there’s an incredible financial commitment evident,” he said.
Otherwise, he took the right path.
For the legion of fans who resent him for taking Saudi money to play in a rival golf league, he understands that emotions run high and he respects their opinions.
For the families of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks – all but four of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens – he expressed the deepest empathy even as a group of victims demands that Mickelson and others are leaving the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series.
Anything regarding his future on the PGA Tour, he says, would be speculation. Any changes to the US Open criteria were not for him to say publicly.
Mickelson earned a five-year exemption to win the PGA Championship last year at age 50, becoming the oldest player to win a major tournament.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan spoke publicly on Sunday for the first time since players defected to LIV Golf. Among his arguments regarding the source of funding, Monahan said: “I would ask any player who left, or any player who was considering leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a PGA Tour member?'”
Mickelson said he hasn’t spoken to Monahan since October.
When asked if he felt he should apologize for being part of the Saudi-backed circuit, Mickelson refused to take the bait.
“There are many things over the years that the PGA Tour has done that I agree with, and there are many things that I disagree with, and yet I have supported them wholeheartedly. way,” he said.
Any other opinions he had on the tour or any other governing body that he said he would keep private “because one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is expressing all these little things .”
That’s what started it all.
Mickelson was quoted by Golf Digest in February as referring to the “odious greed” of the PGA Tour while in Saudi Arabia receiving a seven-figure appearance fee.
Then golf writer Alan Shipnuck published an excerpt from his biography on Mickelson which quoted him as calling the Saudis behind the new league “scary mother-(expletive)” and saying he was willing to get involved so that he can have leverage to make changes on the PGA Tour.
Meanwhile, a championship that dates back to 1895 begins Thursday at the Country Club, steeped in heritage as one of the USGA’s five founding clubs.
Saudi talk has been so prevalent that the US Open has become an afterthought.
“You can’t go anywhere without someone talking about it,” Justin Thomas said. “It’s the US Open, and it’s an incredible place, a place with so much history, incredible ground, so many stories, and yet it seems to be all the questions.
“It’s not good for the US Open. It’s not good for us players,” he said. “But unfortunately that’s where we are right now.”
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